Over the past few decades, leopard geckos have become one of the most popular pet reptiles on the planet. Nowadays, just about every pet shop seems to have baby leopard geckos of varying colors and patterns available. However, it wasn’t always this way. If you own one of these delightful lizards or are thinking about adopting one, you may have thought at some point: what is a leopard gecko habitat like in the wild? Where do they live?
Keep reading to learn more about the leopard gecko’s habitat in the wild. We’ll also cover what a captive leopard gecko habitat should look like if you’re considering adopting one of your own.
Where Do Wild Leopard Geckos Live?
Although leopard geckos are now living in homes on nearly every continent, their native habitat is actually a fairly small region tucked away in the Middle East.
These unique lizards come from some of the hottest, driest deserts in countries like Iran, northern India, Afghanistan, Nepal, and parts of Pakistan. There are five total leopard gecko subspecies. All of these subspecies are distributed throughout the same general location.
You won’t see leopard geckos often in populous, industrialized areas like cities and towns full of people, either. They are fairly skittish, solitary, and secretive in the wild. As a result, they tend to avoid humans, preferring to hide under and around rocks and in dense scrublands.
What Is a Wild Leopard Gecko’s Habitat Like?
As we touched on briefly above, leopard geckos thrive in very hot, dry deserts, semi-desert areas, and scrublands.
Surprisingly, these little lizards do well in these harsh conditions! Most notably, they can store large amounts of fat in their tails. This allows them to go without food or water for days or even weeks if necessary. If they encounter a predator, they can also drop their tails in order to escape. They can even eat their shed skin for a quick boost of nutrients!
Overall, a wild leopard gecko’s habitat is sandy, rocky, and dry with small amounts of plant cover. Vegetation is quite sparse in these desert-like regions. The small grassy areas, rocks, and dense bushes provide just enough shelter for them to hide from predators.
Because their habitat is so hot and arid, leopard geckos prefer to be crepuscular. This means they are mostly active at night and early in the morning when temperatures are milder. They often bask on rocky outcrops when they need to thermoregulate, since the large, flat rocks retain heat for hours after the sun sets. These rocky, sandy regions also provide great areas for the geckos to burrow in for safety (and provide lots of insects and invertebrates for them to eat!).
For decades, biologists believed wild leopard geckos were strictly solitary in nature. However, more recent research suggests that some individuals actually live within small groups or loosely structured colonies.
What Is a Captive Leopard Gecko’s Habitat Like?
When it comes to keeping leopard geckos in captivity, the most important thing is replicating their natural habitat as closely as possible (within reason). Fortunately, these hardy little geckos fare quite well in captivity! They are very forgiving to common beginner reptile owner mistakes and have curious yet docile temperaments.
A captive leopard gecko must live in a secure enclosure, preferably 20 to 30 gallons or larger with lots of horizontal space to explore. They are mostly terrestrial and don’t climb much, so vertical space isn’t as important for them as it is for other arboreal gecko species.
Additionally, temperature and humidity control are very important for a captive leopard gecko habitat. Temperatures should be similar to those they would experience in the wild, and their enclosure needs a gentle temperature gradient from the hot side (their basking area) to the cooler side. Humidity must be low, just like in their native habitat, or within 30% to 40% at all times.
Finally, substrate should be solid and flat, like tile, stone, linoleum, reptile sand mats, reptile carpet, or even paper towels. This is to minimize the risk of impaction, as wild leopard geckos often succumb to this condition by eating many small, indigestible particles of sand and dirt over time. Variations in elevation and enrichment should be added to the enclosure with decorations like rocks, bridges, caves, and logs.
Interestingly, their ability to thrive in captivity is part of the reason why they were the first domesticated lizard species! In the late 1970s and early 1980s, reptile breeders plucked leopard geckos from their native habitats and bred them in captivity to great and immediate success.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Daniel Castillo
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